India's complex love affair with US

Two-thirds of Indians see Bush as a friend of India, but 72 percent also say US is a 'bully.'

After signing an agreement to recognize India as a nuclear power, and gaining India's promise to allow international inspections of its civilian nuclear power plants, President George W. Bush might be expecting a little Indian love.

Yet if he were to take a walk through the streets of New Delhi - where Wednesday's massive demonstrations by Muslims against the war in Iraq were followed by Communist Party protests Thursday - he might find that many Indians have complicated feelings toward the world's only superpower.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted last week for the Indian magazine Outlook, two-thirds of respondents say that George Bush is a "friend of India."

But 72 percent say that America is "a bully," and 59 percent believe that India has "compromised on its foreign policy" to become closer to the US.

"It's this unilateral thing that makes people upset; you want everything your way, and as long as the world toes your line, it's fine," says Anand Mahindra, owner of a computer-maintenance company in New Delhi. "But you guys are the ones who used nuclear bombs in Japan. You used chemical weapons in Vietnam. And you're the ones driving all those gas-guzzling cars. You have no moral ground to stand on. Who are you to tell us what to do?"

For all the factors that bind America and India together - democratic traditions, economic ties, military cooperation, and common views on the war on terrorism - President Bush and his counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, admit that it may take time for the two partners to become close friends.

"We concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power," Bush told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday. "It's not an easy job for the prime minister to achieve this agreement. I understand. It's not easy for the American president to achieve this agreement."

Using an argument he intends to employ with Congress, Bush insisted that reversing decades of nuclear proliferation policy to allow India to develop its civilian nuclear program is in the interests of American citizens because it will "help take the pressure off the global demand for energy."

"Proliferation is certainly a concern and a part of our discussions and we've got a good-faith gesture by the Indian government that I'll be able to take to the Congress," Bush said.

Now that India has agreed to allow inspections of its civilian power plants, Mr. Singh said, it's up to the US government to "go to the Congress and make necessary amendments to the laws (on nonproliferation) and approach the Nuclear Suppliers Group for working the deal."

On the plane ride over the Atlantic, National Security adviser Stephen Hadley had told reporters that this trip was larger than any single issue. "What I think you'll see on display is a broadening and deepening of the relationship between the United States and India.... We've become partners on a global level."

Key to deepening that relationship will be average Indians, whose notions of America may be less sophisticated than their urban counterparts represented in the Outlook survey. Many of them love American culture, but that doesn't mean they buy everything America has to sell - especially its foreign policy.

"Indians have always felt close to America on a popular level, to American films, to clothes, to music," says Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "But at the same time, many Indians see America as too domineering. It's like a wife who wishes her husband ... would give her more room to grow."

But though the Indo-US relationship may be bumpy at times, it has become strong enough to serve as a pillar for US policy in the region. Though it's the second largest Muslim country, India is largely free from the Islamist-driven unrest its rival, Pakistan, has experienced.

On Thursday morning, after weeks of violent protests against the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammad, bomb blasts killed a US diplomat and several others outside the US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan.

Mr. Bush told reporters Thursday he would continue his travel plans to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, saying, "terrorists or killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan."

Though fundamentalist messages popular among Pakistanis fall flat in India, the country's 150 million Muslims find any partnership with America to be a frightening prospect.

"Look at what the US has done in Iraq, is it not terrorism?" asks Javed Akhtar, a liberal social activist and top Indian filmmaker in Bombay. "The problem of the world is not Muslim fundamentalism. It is American fundamentalism, and the American greed for power."

"The US needs to do some introspection, very soon," says Mr. Akhtar, whose group, Muslims for a Secular Democracy, confronts Islamic fundamentalism. "Here I am pushing an organization that fights tooth and nail with fanatics."

But when the US props up countries like Saudi Arabia and launches preemptive wars against Iraq, he says, "the US is in fact damaging our cause. They are providing the rationale and logic to the fundamentalists."

Yet Bush's signature on foreign policy - the war on terror - also strikes a strong chord with many Indians who feel that India itself should take a more forceful stand against Islamic militants, both in the troubled state of Kashmir, and increasingly on its long border with Bangladesh.

"Mr. Bush is a good friend and he fights against the Muslims," says A.K. Misra, a rickshaw driver in Delhi and an observant Hindu. "The Muslims always come here and create problems for India, and now they are giving problems to you."

"I don't think Bush is a bad man or a bully," he says. "Of course he should think of ways to protect his country."

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